Keeping Affiliate Programs Clean

by akagorilla on April 26, 2013

Gorilla Tribune #3 – Opinion/Editorial by Greg Hoffman

As an affiliate program manager, I struggle with keeping my programs clean everyday. If it’s not paid search trademark poachers, it’s toolbars, software, browser add-ons, cookie stuffers or rogue coupon affiliates. I hope some of you are aghast at my behavior in this post. It means I’m doing my job.

My programs are not perfect and depending on the products some might never be completely clean. But we try to find as much balance as possible and create a level playing field for every affiliate sending traffic. There is an argument that says killing 99.9% of the germs on your hand 10 times a day will ultimately break down your immune system. In this case, I believe the same to be true with affiliate marketing. Great affiliates are innovative and they will find a way to edge out the competition. I’m fine with that but the affiliates I have a problem with do not consider the effects on the merchant or the other affiliates in the program. They want to grab the customer at any cost and they stand above the fish pond with a shotgun.

After taking over programs managed by other managers, I guarantee I try much harder than many. Don’t get your panties in a wad if you are one of the good guys. What I’m saying is there is a vast amount of ignorance to this issue in the industry. I’m writing this post to vent and to educate that each affiliate needs to be evaluated and their promotions scrutinized. Just because they send sales doesn’t mean it’s a good value or sound strategy.

Let’s talk about some and see how much trouble I can get into.

Retailmenot
They are a necessary evil in our industry. They are the big dog in the coupon space. With the money they have in the bank, they can probably buy a professional football team. I railed against them for many years but the truth is they actually bring in new customers. I’ve run my tests in affiliate programs and in many verticals, they have the traffic to show incremental growth. My strategy with Retailmenot for the last year is to monitor the coupons they post on their landing pages for my clients and give them vanity codes when possible. Will they take credit for existing customers and leads from other channels? Yes, but as one of my oldest clients says, “They closed the sale, leave them alone.” In general, we try to make sure old coupon codes are removed and non-affiliate marketing codes are not posted. It will never be perfect but since they rank #1 for every brand name plus the word coupon, I might as well keep a good relationship with them.

ShopAtHome
They are not in any of my programs and they will never be welcome. There is no option to be removed from their toolbar and they never respect paid search terms of service. When they were honored at a Commission Junction conference I attended a few years ago, I threw up a little bit. Every time I remove them from a program (EVERY TIME), conversions for other affiliates increase and within a month sales increase overall. ShopAtHome – save the postage on my Christmas card.

Ebates
Just like Retailmenot, they are (sometimes) a necessary evil. They are the grandfather of toolbars but they at least have the technology and decency to “remove” merchants from the toolbar when requested. What this means is quoted directly from a rep at Ebates: “There is not an option to opt out fully, there will still be a reminder for possible cash back, but the member will have to choose to go back to Ebates if they want their cash back.” Now, out of all of my programs, I inherited them in two programs. In both of those programs, they accounted for such a high percentage of the sales that there was no way the merchant would have allowed me to remove them. I had no choice but to work around them. If you want to work with them and you aren’t a big brand, don’t waste the $750 slotting fee for integration. Build your program without them. (Update 5/15/14: I do not work with them at all)

Toolbars/Software
When a program has more than 50% of its monthly sales coming from toolbars or software, there is something very very wrong with the program. The majority of the sales should be coming from niche content affiliates. These are the affiliates that work hard to build promotions and they put long hours of coding and writing into the brand. Toolbars and software take credit for the sale with zero effort. Eventually, the content affiliates give up because their conversion is too low. Therefore, I remove the bulk of the toolbar and software affiliates from my programs. Collectively, their sales do not equal Ebates and the losses are quickly covered up by higher conversion from good affiliates. I don’t have any ill feelings toward these affiliates, like I do for others further below, but I just don’t see them adding value to the program. I have never seen a drop in the affiliate programs I manage after I remove them and activate content affiliates. Here is a short list with their CJ ID numbers:

MyPoints.com, Inc. (593103)
Social Growth Technologies, Inc (3129257)
Savings.com Inc. (1528854)
We-Care.com (1787055)
Coupilia Apps (3863187)
Drop Down Deals, LLC Jeetyet Media, LLC (3110874)
Jutera Inc (3069199)
Cartwheel Inc. (3740095)
BeFrugal.com (2393550)
SHOP.COM Marketplace/marketamerica.com, inc. (917492)

Paid Search
If my programs allow direct linking paid search I still lock it down. I have my preferred and trusted affiliates that I work with personally to get the job done and they get exclusive rights. Anyone else that violates the terms gets the boot (thank you BrandVerity)- and they never complain or try to work a deal because all they want are the trademark keywords. Again, it’s the affiliates that only target low-hanging fruit that I have a problem with. Over the years, I have removed hundreds of ppc affiliates. It’s easy to find them in ShareASale. Just look for affiliates that have negative feedback ratings. Here are some of the worst/most recent offenders and their ShareASale ID:

Equinox SEM LLC, ID 402470 www.equinoxsem.com -10 negative feedback rating (means they don’t care)
HelmSpar Inc., ID 577825 www.graboodle.com/ -4
Espacios Digitales S.A., ID 358497 espacios-digitales.com -8
David C Brooks , ID 291621 mybakewareshop.com -5
totes inc, ID 669232 floppynote.com/ -4
jbizix, ID 399490 www.bajabuggs.com -5

Paid Search +
Coupon affiliates that buy trademark terms plus the words coupon, promo codes, discounts and deals are a problem in nearly every affiliate program in existence. These affiliates are hitting the customer mindset of finding the best deal and closing the sale at the last minute by occupying trademark space in paid search. The traffic is not direct linked but the landing pages are stripped bare of any valuable content and the customer has a choice of coupons that may or not work. The majority of them are old or fake codes, thus causing a bad customer experience. My strategy is to lock it down and control the landing pages. I work with a handful of couponers to make sure they get good vanity codes in exchange for keeping the page clean. When I say handful, I’m not kidding. I don’t make it easy for couponers to get vanity or exclusive codes and most of them ignore my correspondence. I could list dozens of coupon affiliates I will never work with again because of their practices or entitlement attitudes. My “handlers” have asked me to clean up what I really think of these coupon trade mark violators:

Greenwood Monkey Bars, LLC, ID 371505 www.thecouponscoop.com (0 – they learned to counter negative feedback)
brinGsaleS.com, LLC, ID 162921 www.promocodes2012.com -8
NextGen Shopping, LLC, ID 62420 www.secretprices.com -3
ITRIANGLES LLC, ID 323469 www.comcoupons.com -1
Ekam Technology Solutions, ID 447099 www.gotthecoupon.com -3
The White Unicorn Group, Inc., ID 437674 www.sayvings.com -1
IMEX Venture Partners, LLC, ID 663574 www.couponpaste.com -2
Farooq Khan, ID 505959 www.mypromotionalcode.com -2
Coupon Refund Inc, ID 241737 www.couponrefund.com (0 – they learned to counter negative feedback)

Got an opinion? Come at me bro. I’ve been holding this one in for a long time. I do listen to others opinions and my stance has evolved over the years so I would appreciate feedback.

{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Stephanie Robbins April 26, 2013 at 10:00 am

Wow, naming names and IDs, you are stirring it up. I recently went from an open policy to elminating many of the your “oh hell no” list. I am interested in trying out Shareasale’s technology of giving a split credit to coupon sites. As an affiliate manager, I am regularly being pushed to work with more content affiliates. If they are losing the sale every time to a coupon site, I can’t be successful. Curious to hear your thoughts on this technology.

Reply

akagorilla April 26, 2013 at 10:24 am

It’s on my todo list. I think it’s a great evolution. I’ve started tinkering with the leapfrog and tagging in ShareASale but I really need to get in there and implement it.

Reply

Pat Grady April 26, 2013 at 10:17 am

Get ‘em GHC, luv it!

Reply

Sabrina O'Malone April 26, 2013 at 11:13 am

And this is why content affiliates work on programs with the Marketing Gorilla! You said what needed to be said here Greg. Way to go!

Reply

Cindy April 26, 2013 at 12:27 pm

The problem is, some managers just want to show the merchant that they can increase sales or attract these great super affiliates and some of these are who they put in the program. Its hurting the merchants organic sales and stealing from other affiliates, but it makes the managers look good in the eyes of the merchant, and sometimes its really hard to make a merchant understand why these are not good affiliates to work with.

Reply

akagorilla April 26, 2013 at 2:21 pm

The worst managers are the CJ program management team. They do not understand content affiliates.

Reply

Dave Naffziger April 26, 2013 at 12:48 pm

A lot of familiar names and IDs =). The industry should be more open about discussions like this!

Reply

AffiliateHound aka theHoundDawg April 27, 2013 at 12:01 am

Love the call out of the thieves, crooks, conspirators, and desperados. If only there were more program managers doing what you do, Greg, and if only the CJs and LSs gave a shit about honesty and integrity, and actual labor to get it done, rather than scheming and contriving and rigging the system, all for that bottom line.

Reply

T Certain April 28, 2013 at 6:33 am

Thank you for cleaning up. Wish more were like you!

Reply

akagorilla April 29, 2013 at 7:52 am

A commission Junction rep was just arguing that one of the affiliates on my Paid Search + list wants to join my program and I should accept them. I said no, they violate my terms. Her answer was, I haven’t seen a violation in more than a year. That’s because its easier to report violations in other programs.

CJ support is the absolute worst when it comes to keeping programs clean. All they care about is making money, not helping the merchant overall.

Reply

Nathan Grimm May 1, 2013 at 10:20 am

Greg: This is the best post I’ve seen on affiliate management because it’s intensely practical and specific. Thank you for being transparent and honest with your tactics. It will go a long ways towards educating other managers and ultimately improving the industry.

Reply

akagorilla May 9, 2013 at 5:40 am

They came at me, didn’t they? I think I answered them the best I could on the forum. Thread: EBates & McAfee stealing from Affiliates and Merchants!!

Reply

Kush A. May 3, 2013 at 3:30 pm

Damn good post sir! I hope more affiliate managers read this – shared.

It’s never an “accident” when an affiliate starts brand bidding. Case in point: http://i.imgur.com/XdG0hZ1.png

Reply

Jackie Eldridge May 10, 2013 at 12:22 pm

I really enjoyed your candor. As a newbie in the affiliate space, this is the best information I have found. There is so much skirting of the truth by the networks—you answered many of my questions that I have never gotten answered. Thanks. You should write a book on affiliate management. Thank you.

Reply

akagorilla May 10, 2013 at 1:52 pm

Thanks, I actually did write a book, called Affiliate Management for Ma, Pa and the Corporate Clueless. Sent out 300 copies a few years ago to managers. It’s outdated now.

Reply

Curt August 16, 2013 at 8:56 am

Hi Greg,

I just found out about you and this blog. Thanks. I really appreciate what you do. I am a newbie affiliate manager trying to figure it out and I think your blog will really help. There is a lot too managing a program! You seem like a great resource though, kinda like the Dave Ramsey of the Affiliate arena. haha. Thanks for this article. You should rewrite a new book. I would definitely be interested in reading it. Thanks again, Curt

Reply

akagorilla August 16, 2013 at 9:23 am

You should check out http://www.abestweb.com. It’s an ancient form of communication but it still works.

Reply

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: